Senate approves food-safety legislation

A measure that gives federal officials greater regulatory reach into food-safety matters passed the Senate on Tuesday.

The measure now must gain House approval before it goes to the president. The House already passed a version of the bill.

Included in the Senate version of the bill are provisions aimed at protecting small farms and producers, said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., calling the measure one that will “finally bring food safety in this country into the 21st century.”

The measure is partly in response to the 2008 outbreak of salmonella at first tied to tomatoes until determining the culprit was peppers, but not before causing damage to tomato growers and suppliers.

The measure is an example of government overreach, Harry Talbott of Talbott Farms in Palisade said.

The measure, called the Food Safety Modernization Act, or S.B. 510, would give the Food and Drug Administration broad power to recall food products such as Talbott’s Mountain Gold apple juice should contamination be tied to apple juice, Talbott said.

“If we had the feds in there, it might not be so easy to get back on the shelf, even if it was clean,” Talbott said.

“What we’ve got is food paranoia in the United States,” Talbott said. The law is “more about control than anything else. We have the safest food supply that the world has ever seen.”

The measure, however, takes into account the needs of small farms and suppliers, Steve Ela of Ela Family Farms in Hotchkiss said.

Regulators with the FDA would be required to be sensitive to the scale of the businesses with which they were dealing, Ela said.

Smaller operations, for instance, might not have to hire outside consultants to prepare their own food-safety plans that large businesses might need to meet new regulations.

The measure gives him reassurance about his business, Ela said.

“One of my greatest fears is having a food-safety incident,” Ela said. “That could put us literally out of business.”

Talbott’s products already have to meet standards from retailers and chains that carry Mountain Gold juice, as well as government agencies other than the Food and Drug Administration, he said.

A Bennet-introduced provision would allow small farms with annual sales less than $500,000 that sell the majority of their product directly to consumers, restaurants and retailers within 275 miles of their farm to comply only with state regulations. The exemption, however, could be withdrawn for a farm found to have a food-safety issue.

Among the bill’s provisions are:

Requiring that food processing and other regulated facilities install controls to prevent the most likely safety hazards.

Directing the FDA to establish science-based “performance standards” to forestall the most significant food contaminants and improve food-borne-illness surveillance systems.

Increasing the frequency of inspections, extended oversight and mandating product recalls if not done voluntarily.

Greater scrutiny of food imports.

Establishing requirements for certifying or accrediting laboratories.


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